As anyone who has ever seen Mitt and Ann Romney up close can attest, there’s little doubt that the would-be first lady seems to be more of a political natural than her husband. While the Republican presidential candidate can seem awkward at times even in small groups, his spouse has the ease and grace of a seasoned professional. So it’s little wonder that not only is Mrs. Romney a popular GOP attraction on the stump, but that the media has begun to focus not only on what she is saying but also her role in her husband’s campaign. Both the New York Times and Politico ran features about her today in which her fierce defense of Mitt’s attitude toward women, as well as his campaign strategies, are examined. If the stories are to be believed, Mrs. Romney’s position is that her husband should be left alone to be who he is and that Republicans should be spending more time talking about his virtues rather than carping about tactical mistakes.
She’s probably right, but the arguments about how best to portray the candidate go to the heart of the problem. Mrs. Romney is quoted as admitting that her husband isn’t very good at telling people stories about himself, especially the really flattering ones about his compassion for others. But that’s not something that his wife, or anyone else for that matter, can do for him. In the end, voters are looking to evaluate Romney, and not a surrogate’s version of him. That’s why tonight’s debate, when he will finally be alone on the stage with the president, is so important.
Though mainstream media outlets are attempting to feast on inside information about his campaign that seems like a teaser for a future “Game Change” style expose of the GOP effort, the backbiting about letting Mitt be Mitt or whether Ann is protecting him too much against those trying to turn the campaign around is irrelevant. So, too, is the debate expectation game that both Republicans and Democrats have been playing in which they seek to inflate their opponent’s standing while deprecating their own man’s likelihood to emerge the victor in Denver.
The point isn’t whether Romney wins or loses, since both sides are sure to claim victory no matter what happens. The chances that the president’s media cheering section will ever admit he was bested, even if he clearly was, are nil. But what can happen tonight is for the American people to see Romney at his best, quoting facts and figures and demonstrating his complete grasp of many complex issues while also being able to destroy his opponent’s arguments. That’s the Romney we saw in some, though not all of his debates with his Republican rivals last winter. That Romney didn’t need his wife to explain him to the public or to defend his campaign strategies. With less than five weeks to go before Election Day, there is simply no more time left for surrogates and strategies to either help or transform Romney’s candidacy. He must either demonstrate his ability to go toe-to-toe with Barack Obama or start thinking about going home.
While Ann Romney is an able surrogate, a sure sign that Romney has gotten back on the right track after tonight will be if we see fewer of these stories about her and whether she is a positive or negative influence in his Boston headquarters. Though she may be a positive influence for him and his party, only Mitt Romney can affect the momentum swing he needs to win in November.